Historic barn goes solar way

Jessup businessman donates panels, labor at conservancy

May 23, 2008|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to The Sun

A weathered gray barn on the property of the Howard County Conservancy is getting a modern makeover with the addition of solar panels that will provide energy and education opportunities for the nonprofit environmental education center.

Twelve solar panels were donated by Richard Deutschmann, chief executive officer of Chesapeake Solar, a renewable energy company in Jessup. Deutschmann has strong ties to the conservancy: He and his wife, Vanessa, married there two years ago, and his son has participated in many programs on the 232-acre property.

"It just tied in really well," said Deutschmann, watching as employees Matt Gitt and John Selby installed the panels last week on the south-facing portion of the roof, where they will absorb the most sunlight.

The project will be officially unveiled Thursday at the conservancy's annual Wine in the Garden Party.

His company donated 100 percent of the cost of the panels and their installation to the conservancy.

"We're a small nonprofit, and this is a gift that will last," said Meg Schumacher, the conservancy's director.

The panels will offset the conservancy's energy costs and will also provide education for the thousands of schoolchildren who visit the site each year for school programs and camps.

A display pedestal will be set up explaining how the panels collect, store and use energy, and a computer monitor will allow visitors to observe energy collection and usage in real time, she said.

"The demonstration nature of it is what's really important to us," she said.

The real-time monitoring will also be posted online for viewing from anywhere in the world.

Deutschmann said he formed his company nine years ago and has seen it grow from a two-person operation to one that just hired its 16th employee. Since it was founded, the company has designed and installed more than 250 solar systems on residential and commercial properties.

"Now it's really starting to take off," Deutschmann said of solar power.

Deutschmann said the installation at the Howard County Conservancy fits in with his company's mission to promote a clean-energy future by educating people about the benefits of solar energy.

"That's really key to the project, to tie in the education programs," he said.

The 165-watt solar photovoltaic system panels combine to create a 1.98-kilowatt system that captures energy when the sun shines on them. The energy then flows through wires installed by Chesapeake Solar to an inverter that converts it to electricity that supplements the grid power coming in. If the panels provide more energy than the center needs, the electric meter will run backward, Deutschmann said.

The conservancy, off Route 99 in Woodstock, had been farmland owned by the Browne (later Brown) family since 1692. After Frances Louise Brown died in 1992, it was received by the conservancy the next year.

The outbuildings that once housed farm animals and implements now fulfill educational and administrative functions. The 8,700-square-foot Gudelsky Environmental Education Center, opened in 2005 and was built with such environmental features as recycled rubber floors and carpeting made of recycled fibers. It has a large classroom on the first floor, as well as a gift shop and conference center on the second floor.

The building that now holds solar panels is called the Bank Barn, and it dates to 1900, when it was rebuilt after a fire on the property, Schumacher said. It has wide-wood floors and is filled with wheelbarrows and wooden benches.

During the summer, when children participate in camp programs at the conservancy, they put their lunches in the barn while they explore the property, or they wait out cloudbursts under its roof.

"It was a perfect fit," Schumacher said of adding the solar panels to the old building.

Conservancy board member Carol Filipczak, who also watched the panels being installed, agreed.

"I think it's super," she said.

ksnitkin@comcast.net

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